A Smoother Pebble


Night Thoughts

Which one of the 'Great Philosophers' would make the best blogger?

Socrates, of course, would be good, and would've spent a lot of time in the comments threads.

Plato would've hated blogging. He is supposed to have written the first paragraph of The Republic seventy times. A blogger has to produce regularly and must sacrifice quality for quantity. Obsessive revision is impossible. If you spend all morning taking a comma out and all afternoon putting it back in your audience forgets you. A blogger has to continually toss out fresh ideas, one after the other. Good, bad, who cares? The readers can always skip to the next post. So what if you cringe with embarrassment when reviewing your old posts? No one reads them. Lastly, blogging is ideally a conversation, and Plato preferred to preach.

Aristotle? The kind of professor who dumps all of his course notes on his website, with no consideration for entertainment and prose style. Uses the internet to look up on-line databases, that's all.

Montaigne? Not a philosopher, strictly speaking, but I could picture him posting his essays from the Ivory Tower. But Montaigne wouldn't have taken full advantage of the internet as the vast majority of his references are to authors dead for a millenium or more; fairly few, even by the standards of the day, are to contemporaries. Few links, and probably wouldn't even have kept a blogroll.

Kant? Regrettably there is only a certain amount of intellectual meat that can be packed into a blog post. One can't really talk about technical issues above the faculty lunch chit-chat level on a blog. This and Kant's impenetrable prose style would have been a great handicap. On the other hand his punctilious habits would have made for regular posting. If the citizens of Koenigsberg could set their clocks by his morning walk then we could have been assured of getting our daily dose of Kant.

That fraud Hegel? No. Blog readers want to be entertained. Hegel is read out of the mistaken belief that he is 'important'. Blog readers are never under the delusion that a particular blog is 'important'.

Wittgenstein? Well of course not. The kind of philosopher who gets one Big Idea and then broods over it, fiddling with it for years or decades wouldn't do any better at blogging than a marathon runner in the sprints.

Russell? Voltaire? Hume? I don't doubt but that all of them would have taken to blogging if they had put their minds to it, but blogging would have perfectly fitted one man:

Schopenhauer.

We've all met Schopenhauers on the internet. The cranky loner, the brilliant eccentric who doesn't talk physically to another human being for days on end, on the borderline of lunacy and genius. The internet would have been perfect for Schopenhauer.

When The World as Will and Representation was published in 1818 Schopenhauer thought that he had solved the fundamental problems of philosophy. He expected that the world would acknowledge his genius and the discovery that no one was interested in reviewing, responding or even reading his book astounded him. Nowadays Schopenhauer would've followed the usual course for an unsung genius and self-published on the web. Then he would've started posting articles, more and more regularly, and finally a weblog. I imagine that someone at the Volokh Conspiracy would've started to link to him (all Schopenhauer's early fans were lawyers), and soon he would have been well launched.

And he would have been a success. Schopenhauer has always been one of the most-read philosophers amongst educated non-academic readers because of his coruscating style, his brilliant wit and the range of his thought- music, crime, novels, architecture, and other subjects which philosophers generally don't touch. Of course amateurs also like it for its non-technical nature (which makes it less often studied by academics) and the philosophy itself is mostly nonsense, but amusing nonsense- just like blogs.

The essays in Parerga and Paralipomena (how's that for a blog title?) would make perfect blog posts. Schopenhauer used to read the newspapers (especially The Times) every day and his works are full of anecdotes taken from the journals. Isn't that perfectly like a blogger? Short posts made up of links to a couple of newpaper articles barbed with a few witty remarks to fill out the time while he taps out a longer essay- the blogger who posts heavier content has to leaven it with some light ephemera.

Even Schopenhauer's faults fitted him for blogging. However absurd his speculations he is constantly thought provoking. His mind was always bubbling with speculations; as Karl Popper said, there are more interesting ideas in Schopenhauer than in any other philosopher. True, many of them are so outlandish that it's hard to credit anyone believing them - that clever people are bad at maths, that we inherit our intelligence from our mothers and our characters from our fathers, that men of genius are short, etc., but we don't have to agree with someone always to find them interesting.

A blogger will, unavoidably, become repetitious over time. One can't think of a totally new topic every day of the week, so the blogger has to return to his hobby-horses. Most first-time readers only look at the first few entries anyway, so repeating material lets them get a fair view of the site. One of the annoyances when reading Schopenhauer is his tendency to write the same thing over and over again. In Parerga and Paralipomena especially this repetitiousness reaches an extraordinary degree, which the blog reader can easily solve by using the PgDn key.

Finally, the most important skill of all: invective. The ideal blogger has to be skilled in the 'vituperative arts'. Flamewars, rants typed all in caps, trolling, blogfeuds - these things give the internet its spice. The freedom under cover of a pseudonym to insult another pseudonym, to be liberated from the constraints of honour and decency, to escape the normal consequences of boorishness and rudeness is extremely refreshing; we all need an occasional cathartic Saturnalia. Schopenhauer was naturally well equipped for this; just consider what he wrote like this in his published works what would he have done in a comments thread?

Hegel ... a commonplace, inane, loathsome, repulsive and ignorant charlatan, who with unparalled effrontery compiled a system of crazy nonsense that was trumpeted abroad as immortal wisdom by his mercenary followers, and was actually regarded as such by blockheads ...

First Fichte and then Schelling, both of whom were not without talent, but finally Hegel, that clumsy and nauseating charlatan, that pernicious person, who completely ruined and disorganised the minds of an entire generation...

[Idealist philosophy is] a prostitute who for shameful remuneration sold herself yesterday to one man, today to another...

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